Monthly Archives: August 2014

Morris Dancer alert: Wallingford Bunkfest

Having found ourselves in Wallingford on Bunkfest weekend, it seemed churlish not to take a look, even if it did mean tripping over Morris Dancers everywhere. For completeness, even though nothing to do with Biggles’ adventures afloat, some pictures of singers and musicians…

Alastair Russell gi'in it laldyPete Orton & Shady GroveGirl with Musical Saw

Some pictures of dancers…

It's Morris Dancing, Jim, but not as we know it...Windsor Morris on the ground.Rockhoppers getting airborneA nasty outbreak of the Michael Flatleys

Some pictures of the lovely Jackie Oates…

Jackie Oates, BunkfestJackie Oates: Mosh Pit

And like policemen, the inhabitants of the mosh-pit seem to get younger and younger.

Wallingford Willows

Arriving in Wallingford – which turned out to be a delightful town – the day before the start of the Bunkfest, the much vaunted council moorings by the bridge were already full (and only available for 24 hours, though several boats stayed all weekend).

So a swift about-turn (nice wide river!), and about 1km back upstream we dived under the weeping willows lining the banks by Wallingford Castle Meadows and tied up to a couple of trees. Beats using mooring pins in soggy ground, and it was nice and quiet, secluded and cat friendly – unlike down by the town bridge – if a little “overgrown”.

Nice walk along the river path into town via the bridge, or across the fields into the town centre. What more could you want, apart from the fact that the area would soon be awash with Morris Dancers?

Walking back in the evening twilight, there was a silent and stately procession of forty one Canada Geese sailing slowly down river in strict single file, about eighteen inches apart: the spacing was accurate enough for a Red Arrows display. Quite spooky.

Hiding under the willows.Wallingford Willows, by the Castle MeadowsWallingford WillowsBoat house, Wallingford.

Abingdon Day Trippers

Some old friends and Abingdon dwellers  – I’ve known Dick since before primary school – joined the boat at Abingdon Lock, and were the first proper guests to travel on the boat with us. A pleasant if windy cruise down to Culham then back to moor in the middle of Abingdon’s waterfront.

Unlike many places, where towns grow up around ancient river crossings (and hence the river goes through the middle of town), Abingdon wasn’t on the Thames originally, but the river was diverted to run round the edge of town back in mediaeval times.

Abingdon WaterfrontThe boys are in town.Abingdon waterfront

More recent history saw Biggles’ greatest success, at the annual Russian Blue Breeders’ Association show held in Abingdon in 2010. He insisted I put a picture of his cup and rosettes in the blog…

The haul from the 2010 RBBA show.

Anchors Away

Two wet days sees a visit to Oxford Cruisers at Eynsham: Song & Dance is now the proud possessor of an anchor and chain: let’s just hope we never have to use it! Time to bin those old risk assessments…

A night moored up at Osney Bridge (you can see why the Upper Thames has so few big boats: it was a tight-ish fit even for us). Convenient for a quick trip into the Oxford shops, then off down river again towards Abingdon. Osney appears to have five streets: East Street, North Street, South Street, West Street and Bridge Street, which has a refreshing simplicity about it. Except the Bridge Street is some way from the Bridge. Oh well.

The river’s changing: clearly they take their rowing seriously hereabouts (even if we didn’t mow down or even see a single rower), the locks are getting bigger, and the river wider. Maybe we need some risk assessments on the thorny issue of life jackets or flotation devices. Maybe.

At one of the locks, just as the gate was opening, there was a brief turquoise flash by the bow, a modest “splash” then a kingfisher flew out of the water with a small fish in his beak and headed into the bankside bushes, quite unconcerned by boats and people. Lovely.

Osney Bridge, OxfordCollege Rowing ClubsBig Lock!Wide Open River

Defence of the Realm

The Leaving of LechladeDSCF0908

All along the banks of the Upper Thames, about every half mile, there are old WWII pill boxes. Had visions of the boffins trying to prevent the enemy from staging a sneak raid into the Lechlade megalopolis by storming up the river in fast RIBs, but they’re all on the Eastern side of the river. Apparently this was an attempt to protect the Midlands from an invasion force coming up from the South West, using the reinforced river as a barrier (presumably blowing up the very few road bridges in these parts).

Can’t help thinking that the narrow river wouldn’t have delayed a decent sized force with a Bailey Bridge or two for more than a few hours, but who knows. And the area is still so remote from villages that I guess no one has bothered to dig them up or find a use for them.

And this neck of the woods has remained a military stronghold: RAF Fairford just by Lechlade is active again (big American transport jobs around), while Bampton is very near RAF Brize Norton. Superb  – if you like that sort of thing – views of the RAF’s shiny new (or rather unmarked dull grey) Airbus 330 tankers spending the day doing visual circuits at less than 2000 feet, and the occasional sighting of the Red Arrows coming and going.

Bampton in the BushBampton in the BushBampton Levada

Mooring up again at Rushey Lock (bank holiday – no pile driving!), a visit to Bampton was in order: mind you, a two mile walk across open fields full of sheep and wheat to get milk and a newspaper is pushing it. No wonder they used to call it Bampton in the Bush. They seem to have levadas in Bampton too: thought we were in Madeira for a minute.

Fortunately,  freshly baked croissants, decent coffee, and a complete absence of Morris Dancers provided suitable refreshment for the walk back.

Preparing for a long-haul sector (1.1 miles) down to The Trout at Tadpole Bridge to meet up with some old friends who were travelling out for dinner, we saw the Arrows carry out a formation departure from Brize at 13:40 for a 14:00 display at Dunsfold Wings and Wheels. Obviously doesn’t take long in a Hawk.

And then they returned in Diamond Nine formation at 14:35, doing their version of a run and break arrival (a big smoke-on loop overhead the airfield, splitting up on the way down to separate out downwind), while Song & Dance’s first officer proved comprehensively that you can’t steer the boat down the narrow winding river and watch the Red Arrows doing aerobatics at the same time. Not so much Bampton in the Bush as Boat in the Bushes.

Tadpole Bridge

Biggles goes for a dip

Not sure what happened here: no furore, no splash, just the arrival through the cat flap of Sir, wet from tummy to tail while his head and and front paws were dry. He’d been sitting on the edge of the well deck earlier, peering intently into the undergrowth on the shore, which also rather hid the gap between boat and land.

We rather suspect he’d been “stalking” a small furry animal or something, then pounced and found thin air under his rear end. Since then he seems to be fine, but has been walking around with his tail held very low, as though reluctant to move it. Nothing obvious to the touch (and no complaints at an examination): maybe he’s pulled a  another muscle or something. He’s not getting the hang of this aquatic existence!

Biggles goes for a swim – Take 2

The Lechlade public moorings are unlit and really quite dark. The boss had nipped out to chase the cows or something, and we had just returned from dinner when there was a loud splash.

“Man Overboard” – sorry, “Cat Overboard” came the cry… and the first task in the pitch black was to locate a working torch.

Joining her on the back deck Fran was peering frantically around the boat in the dark, while I happened accidentally to point the torch down at my feet, only to see a very sodden furry animal licking himself. Somehow, he’d managed to climb out the river and get back on the boat, without making a noise.

Think he might have pulled a muscle somewhere: he walked very oddly at the back end for a while, and even after towelling down he was still doing a lot of licking around his hind quarters. Seemed OK the next morning, though.

If Typhoo puts the tea in tea bags…

…Lechlade puts the “moo” in mooring.

Once past Eynsham it really becomes remote: unlike the canals there are virtually no animal or foot bridges linking fields either side, and very few roads crossing or even road access. The few villages are all well set back from the river, and hardly a building or vehicle is to be seen as one winds back and forth in a leisurely fashion heading in a vaguely West-South-Westerly direction with either open vistas or heavily overgrown banks for company. Not for nothing did Bampton used to be known as Bampton in the Bush, but the threatening pile-driver precluded a walk into town on the way up-river, so no danger of Morris Dancing activities for the moment.

The pleasant public moorings at just by the bridge at Lechlade are alongside a large open field in which a large number of cows roost. Some of these seemed intent on devouring our radio aerial and licking the other boats to death, while one was planning on visiting the Sylvan Dancer folks whether invited or not.

A pleasant evening ensued, with the first proper visitors to Song & Dance (some old friends who moved to Lechlade nine years ago), and a very nice Italian Restaurant. In the morning a quick wander for a mile or so up to Inglesham Round House – the effective end of the navigable river for us – then back to the marina for a day catching up with household chores before setting off down river for points South and East.

Should that be boathold chores?

Lechlade Public Moo-ringsLechlade Public Moo-ringsInglesham Round  HouseLechlade

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

View from the side hatch - morningSome of the best cruising conditions in the summer are often found first thing in the morning: crisp and cool clear air, no clouds formed yet, hardly anyone around… even breakfast cereals and tea on the hoof (so to speak) taste splendid. We’re not very good at getting going like that: it’s a rare event. And the downside is that the other people who didn’t get going early are having cooked breakfasts, and the smell of frying bacon wafting across the water is pure torture: it should be banned under the Geneva  convention.

Serious piling

Another cruel and unusual punishment came to light later that day: new enormous pilings being put in on the Rushey Lock weir. We could hear the pile-driver’s “bang… bang…” from a mile away, getting louder and louder. What on earth the people staying in the lock-keeper’s cottage made of it, goodness only knows. You needed ear-defenders to work the lock. Another case for the Geneva Convention?

It's nice to have a helpful lock-keeper

Beats us how the visiting lock keeper puts up with it. Mind you, it is nice having someone there to do all the hard work around locks bigger than we’re used to, even if the gates and paddle gear are properly maintained and easy to move, unlike a lot on the canals.

View from the side hatch - evening

On the promise that the pile-driver torture would cease at tea-time, we moored up just around the corner, with another lovely view, and a distinct incentive to get going again early in the morning!

The Owl and the Kingfisher

Having moored up just below Pinkhill Lock, on some open ground just below Farnmoor Reservoir, a gentle stroll up the path found us coming upon an interpretive board that had a picture of a Barn Owl, which just said “Barn Owl”.

Odd, we thought. But as the sun went down, for over three-quarters of an hour we had superb views of a Barn Owl hunting the area around the sign, occasionally diving down into the undergrowth then emerging with something small and furry in its talons before disappearing into a small wooded area, only to reappear rodent-less a minute or two later. If only all interpretive signs were so accurate and useful!

Today’s word for the vocabulary is “crepuscular”.

The next morning had us travelling for over 25 minutes down a narrow overgrown bit of the river, with one or more kingfishers in always sight. Might have been mainly the same one, but at one point we saw three at once. It always gladdens the heart to see that turquoise and russet flash as they rush by low over the water.